I could go on and on about the wonder that is the Grand Canyon, but I would never do it justice and would probably bore the shit out of you in the process. So instead, let's talk about what I didn't know before I went to the park and what I would do differently next time.
What I Learned:
The North Rim of the canyon closes during winter months. The South Rim is open year round. That's where I went.
There are 2 main entrances to the South Rim park, they are both 2 lane roads that feed into payment lanes. This whole process TAKES FOREVER. I can't imagine what the line is like in the peak summer months, but on Black Friday we got there around 3pm and sat in that line for 35 minutes. The entrance fee to the park is $35 and is good for 7 days.
Because the park is so heavily trafficked during the Thanksgiving Holidays, parking around the Visitor's Center and the more popular viewing spots fill up before 10am. We were told the best option to try and park would be to head towards the Desert View area of the canyon which is slightly less popular. That actually worked out beautifully. We found a parking spot along the road almost immediately and were viewing the canyon within about 1 minute of parking.
This is my first photo of the canyon:
At the park there are several color coded bus lines that allow you to go from one section of the canyon to another (for free). I was told that the view on the red line was "the best". I didn't make it to the red line because the lines to get on the bus were out of control and the busses start shutting down at dusk. The photo above is from the orange line. Maybe there is a better view then that? Honestly I can't imagine any of the views being bad or even better than the one I saw. If you make it to the red line busses, let me know what that view is like. I'm very curious about the difference.
I never made it into the Visitor's Center itself, but the area around there is very crowded. There are lots of gift shops and different buildings for the park's maintenance. The park itself was very clean and well maintained, even with the onslaught of visitors. The bathroom lines were super long so I suggest going to stand in line before it is an emergency.
What would I do differently?
SHOW UP EARLY!!! I cannot stress this enough. I am not a morning person, but I would haul my ass out of bed to avoid the wait at the entrance gate and have enough time to see the park at my leisure. There are so many people that everything you want to do requires a wait. It's like mother nature's Disneyland. Lines for everything, people everywhere.
I would do the red line bus first. The red line takes you to Hermit's Rest. There are 2 paths to take on the red line. I wouldn't do all of them but I would probably do 2 or 3 stops. Although in a pinch the orange line busses were faster and not as crowded. If you only have a short amount of time take the orange line bus to Pipe Creek Vista and see what I saw. You won't be disappointed.
Here is a link to the map they will give you at the park. It would have been handy for me to have beforehand. That way I could have plotted my course or at least have gotten familiar with the different bus lines. before I parked. If you only have a few hours to spend at the park the busses will be your best friend.
I didn't have cell phone service at any point in the park. I have T-Mobile (for now) and my phone didn't work at all until I was well outside of the park. It would be helpful to download a map before you lose service that way you know how to get out to your proper destination. I ended up going the wrong way for about 10 min because I had no cell service and therefore no map.
There are park and rides into the park. I didn't realize that until it was too late, but I think that's a great way to see the park as well. There are several pick up spots in the towns outside of the park. You park at a restaurant or designated spot in town and get on a bus into the park that takes you to the Visitor's Center. There is a radio station, 1610 AM, that gives you all of this information as you get close to the park. It is worth listening to for the latest info on what's happening.
That's all I have for now! Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What would you add to this list?